Howie Tsui, a longtime friend, has an ambitious exhibition up at the moment at Centre A in Vancouver, called "Celestials of Saltwater City." This installation marks recent steps in a new direction for this Ottawa-based (soon to be Vancouver-based) artist. Tsui has begun to migrate elements of his narrative painting and drawing practice toward sculptural- and performance-based strategies. Collecting ghost stories from the Chinese-Canadian community of Vancouver, Tsui developed an audiovisual light performance using hand-painted slides on hand-built wooden projectors. It was an experiment of practice that was adventurous in its attempt to move away from the representation of story through narrative painting to the enactment of story through movement, light, and time in a spectacular format. As a friend and colleague, I was rooting for Tsui, and wondering how to pay respect to his effort without compromising my pretend distance as a writer.
Eli Bornowsky, another friend, recently opened a hit of an exhibition at Blanket Gallery. The show brought forward a compression of Bornowsky’s thinking and making of abstract forms into two different series exploring texture and form. The larger paintings expand the sensitive relationships he has been managing between two companion canvasses, working further in a diverse and difficult palette. The smaller series brings his interest in constructing with texture into studies. I was looking forward to seeing the smaller objects in person, as we had spoken about them several times over the past months, and I had recently encountered them published in The Walrus magazine. Like the herd that arrived to see Bornowsky’s work, I was impressed with how much impact the quiet reflective constructions had.
Eli Bornowsky, Description, 2010, Oil on canvas, 77 x 60 inches (diptych). Courtesy the artist and Blanket Contemporary Art, Vancouver.
Again, as I was considering what to write about for ArtSlant’s audience, I felt conflicted. The projects of my professional friends are intrinsic to my understanding of the direction and possibilities of art. This is not an unusual circumstance for a writer in a city the size of Vancouver—in any city really. In the past few months my personal and professional relationships have led to the writing of articles, essays and responses that could accurately be tagged by the Facebook relationship status category “It’s complicated.” Complications arise and are swept along most frequently when one is writing on the small-scale. (Covering events, making short analyses, etc.) Like anyone I know who writes, I find myself in the inevitable circumstance of considering not only what readers might find worthy of examination, but also the perception and possibility of my own investment and bias.
A writer, professor and something of a mentor once said to me “No conflict, no interest.” I scoffed at the time, remarking that we must be attentive to the thin veil of nepotism operating within arts communities, which can be a source of legitimate frustration for those who aren’t on the inside of the fuzzy line of accepted and applauded practices. A few years later, I find myself straining not to trip too much as I walk that line, and working hard to effectively convey the critical involvements and values of the works in question. I wholeheartedly support these two solo exhibitions, because they each mark a step forward, and offer solid opportunities for critical reflection. I’ll never solve all the conflicts, but the friction, rooted in professional as well as personal respect, is worth every keystroke.
Top Image: Wooden Japanese projection boxes or 'Furos' that Tsui built for his projection performance Celestials at Saltwater City. Courtesy the artist and Centre A, Vancouver.
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